December 18, 2023
2023 began with high expectations for harvest strategies at the tuna-RFMOs. 2022 saw adoption of harvest strategies for 4 tuna stocks, and another four priority stocks were on track for 2023 adoption.
At the end of 2022, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) adopted a multi-stock harvest strategy for Atlantic bluefin tuna and preliminary management objectives for western Atlantic skipjack. ICCAT was expected to build on this momentum by adopting harvest strategies for western Atlantic skipjack and North Atlantic swordfish this year, as well as make significant progress on a multi-species management strategy evaluation (MSE) for tropical tunas. But all three of these desired outcomes were unsuccessful, marking 2023 as a year of frustration for fisheries management at ICCAT.
But where there was disappointment in the Atlantic, tuna fisheries in the Pacific made notable progress for harvest strategies throughout the basin. The Northern Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) agreed to a formulaic harvest control rule for North Pacific albacore in July, teeing up adoption on both sides of the basin. The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), which governs the Eastern Pacific, adopted the framework to mark their first ever harvest strategy in August. The ball once again in their court, WCPFC adopted a complementary measure in December, making North Pacific albacore the first ever trans-Pacific harvest strategy and the first to be jointly managed by more than one regional fishery management organization. WCPFC also agreed to a revised target reference point for South Pacific albacore in a critical step toward harvest strategy adoption scheduled for next year.
But some of the most welcome news from WCPFC was about Western and Central Pacific skipjack tuna. WCPFC adopted a harvest strategy for this stock in 2022 but stopped short of mandating implementation. Some governments and stakeholders, including harveststrategies.org, continually called for WCPFC to take that important step this year, especially after the first run of the harvest strategy demonstrated that it was performing as expected and that fishing could remain at recent levels. WCPFC responded last week by adopting a clause in its main tropical tunas measure that will require management action if the harvest strategy-based fishing levels are exceeded, effectively implementing the harvest strategy. This was a monumental step forward for the world’s largest tuna fishery and the third largest fishery in the world.
Now, the conversation turns again to what we can expect for harvest strategies at tuna-RFMOs in 2024. This year was very much a steppingstone year at the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), where harvest strategy development advanced considerably in 2023 for swordfish and skipjack, the latter of which currently only has a harvest control rule in place rather than a fully specified harvest strategy. Both stocks will be ready for harvest strategy adoption in 2024, and combined with the recent delays at ICCAT, it will make it an extraordinarily busy year. 2024 has the potential to see more harvest strategies adopted at tuna-RFMOs globally than ever before.
There are also encouraging signs of progress for other species besides tuna and swordfish at these and other RFMOs. In fact, the sole measure concerning harvest strategies adopted at ICCAT this year was for blue sharks, directing ICCAT scientists to explore the feasibility over the next couple of years of conducting management strategy evaluations on the northern and southern stocks. A harvest strategy for North Pacific saury could also be adopted early next year by the North Pacific Fisheries Commission. And the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean is preparing to adopt as many as ten harvest strategies in the coming years. These examples are encouraging signs that harvest strategies can continue to be scaled for all types of species and contexts in fisheries throughout the world.